Beginning in August 2005, 12 faculty members of Nichols School met to reflect on what should be the focus of a Nichols education in the year 2020. Drawing on numerous resources and examples in other secondary schools, the colloquium examined the current curriculum and began to develop a set of core competencies students will need to incorporate to succeed in the 21st century.
Central in their thinking was that schools and teachers constantly need to revisit and re-envision what we teach, how we teach, and the ways in which we help our students interact with the larger world around them. Highlighting these competencies for ourselves and our students is just one part of the reflection process that a school needs to undertake as we strive to become a stronger community.
Classroom, Community & Individual Competencies
Thinking and Discerning in Complex Ways
We want students to move beyond formulaic responses to a given problem by pushing them to think critically, to draw from a deep and diverse pool of knowledge and resources, to skillfully evaluate the validity and applicability of that information, make creative and authentic connections, and ultimately arrive at either a thoughtful and cohesive solution or a better question.
Creating Original Ideas and Results
The process of producing and inventing is one of synthesis. It asks that the student treat his and her knowledge as a raw material and that they build something new with it. This being a risky enterprise, students must be encouraged not to fear being “wrong.” This competency has tangible results; there is something new in the world put there by the student.
To communicate effectively, students must be able to clearly identify what they want to say, who they are going to say it to, and how, therefore, they can construct the most convincing argument possible through the effective design of their message and medium. Students will need these skills both in the context of their own personal work and growth and in the context of contributing to a larger group; these skills extend not only to traditional scholastic media of the spoken and written word, but also to artistic and technological media such as images and video.
Information Age Fluency
Students must use “digital technology, communications tools and/or networks to access, manage, integrate, evaluate, sift, sort and create information in order to thrive in a knowledge-based society.” (Source: “Engage 21st century skills: Literacy in the Digital Age,” from http://www.ncrel.org.)
Cultural Competence and Global Awareness
Students should understand the role that place, culture, religion and language play in how different people communicate with each other and perceive the world. They should be afforded the opportunity to broaden their range of experiences, to increase their exposure to different ideas, and to empathize with different perspectives and viewpoints.
We want students to be informed about local and global issues affecting our human population, to participate in politics, and to mobilize to serve real needs in their communities. In linking action with awareness and reflection, we hope students will make choices that reinforce a sense of being part of something bigger than themselves.
Environmental Engagement: Sustainability and Stewardship
Environmental awareness is not enough; we want students to look at all the ways humans and environments interact and actually change their behaviors so that their interactions are future-looking and responsible. This will result in a true environmental engagement reflected in sustainability and stewardship.
Personal Resiliency and Adaptability
Well-being has a physical component and emotional, mental and spiritual components, including healthy relationships and a healthy perspective on the student’s place in the family, school and other communities of which they are a part. Well-being engenders resiliency, the ability to recover from the major and minor shocks that shake us and our understanding of the world around us. Students must be able to change course, learn new skills, and redefine themselves in the face of rapid change. They must also manage their world’s complexity by managing time and organizing and integrating resources.